There used to be an old ‘truism’ that said, “to break a bad habit you need to stop doing the bad habit for 11 weeks…” And then after the 11 weeks the bad habit you had, could be stopped. I often think of this saying when people I know have attempted to give up smoking – they “try” for a while, maybe even stop for a week or two, but inevitably go back to it…
Similarly when working with change programs, one of the most overlooked parts of change management is embedding the change afterwards. All too often I see something implemented, a change put in place and then we wonder why it hasn’t stuck – people have gone to their old ways.
Kurt Lewin (1954) referred to this third phase of planned change as “Refreezing”, (following Phase 1 as Unfreezing and Phase 2 as Changing). Using the Prosci method for change management the third phase is “Reinforcing Change”. So this phase is about keeping the focus up after an implementation – when most think the job is done, it is time to keep working. Typically this phase includes analysis of the areas that have been affected by the change to ensure they are actually doing it. From the analysis we can identify business areas that are doing well (where we can reward and celebrate) and diagnose other business areas that need additional support to embed the change (find and address the root causes). Regardless of what method you use there is effort that needs to go into embedding the change once it is in place (following the training, ability building etc), often this period should be around 11-12 weeks of focus to ensure the change is in place.
I am currently reading a book by Barbara Fredrickson (from the University of North Carolina). She quotes research on cellular renewal, I’ll quote/paraphrase a section across pages 74 and 75:
You are constantly changing. Change is the rule, constancy the rare exception. Consider the change under way within you at this very moment. What you know as “you” is actually trillions of cells living and working together. Most only live for a few weeks or months. When they die, they are replaced by new cells. This cycle continues for as long as you live. The pace of cell renewal varies by body part. Your taste buds live only a few hours. Your white blood cells live about ten days. Your muscles cells live about three months. Even your bones are made anew time and time again. Even key brain cells wither away and are reborn. Every part of you can change and the brain is no exception. Considering these differences, scientists have suggested that you replace about one-percent of your cells each day, about 30 percent per month. Seeing yourself and your cells in this way, every three months you get a new you…
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that it takes us around three months to learn a new habit, drop an old/bad one, make a lifestyle change, or adopt a change.
Let’s make sure we allow for a few months in phase three in our change programs – that we support the people who need to adopt the new practice, behaviours or skills.